This summer, at TAP in Urbana-Champaign, we are doing an eight week human sexuality group for middle school students. We have three boys and three girls in our group who range in age throughout the middle school years (from starting 6th grade to finishing 8th grade). Check out the slides that accompany the lesson.
Our first week was a blast. You can check out the full curriculum here [Sex Ed week 1]. We used a worksheet to help the students come up with their own definition of human sexuality. I love the definition we came up with as a group, “Sometimes human sexuality topics make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s a part of life, specifically, part of our private life. Human sexuality is about how we feel about people like loving someone and liking someone, but sometimes two people’s feelings may not match with each other. Human sexuality has to do with emotions, the body, and relationships.”
We sent a letter home with parents that explained the activities with fairly significant detail, touched on next weeks activities, and provided additional resources. One of the important parts of this letter was suggestions for ways to incorporate these topics at home. This week, as it was mostly about introductions, the parent component focused on using the rights and responsibilities at home.
This lesson plan revolved around teaching what body image means, understanding that people feel differently about their bodies, and that people change how they feel about their bodies over time. After doing several knowledge based activities, we moved to exploring how the students felt about their own bodies.
There was one theme that was really relevant for the student we were working with. She was really interested in her perception of self and others perception of her. In her self-portrait, she focused on the things that make her her; most of these were things you couldn’t see.
We also read body stories. Each had a picture of a body. Just seeing the images was really moving. We were planning mostly for girls, but I included a story that might be more appropriate for a male audience. The young woman chose to read the story about the women who was the most traditionally beautiful (not really a big surprise). This was a story about a woman with chronic illness. Serendipitously, the body story resonated concepts that this student was working through.
Here are videos that were developed for 10 – 17 year olds on the autism spectrum regarding puberty & other sexuality topics. They are clear, concrete, and move through the material slowly (this is one of the biggest problems with videos for a general audience- they go too fast!)
My favorite thing about the videos is that the male instructor is an individual with autism.
All of the videos can be found on www.coultervideo.com, a website that sells videos by Dan & Julie Coulter. Dan & Julie are parents of a son with ASD who started creating educational videos on their vacation and now do it full time.
You’re probably sick of seeing my fruity anatomical models, but I just can’t help myself from teaching them- at least I gave you a different picture. I love that activity. One of the participants in the class has trained to be an EMT and is now working on becoming an nurses assistant so he was able to explain the reproductive processes and anatomy. On the other hand, other folks had a hard time looking at pictures of the developing fetus and seeing progression from cells to a more complex organism. I think there just wasn’t enough context and exposure to those images. All the participants in our class had this piece of sex ed before so they knew all the basic parts of anatomy. We got into a nice discussion about reproductive anatomy and why it’s private and why it’s taboo.
When talking about reproduction, be careful not to limit conception to just intercourse (although this is critical information too). In our activity we framed sperm entering the vagina as through intercourse or a medical procedure. You could go into more depth and talk about different fertility options. Why? First, intercourse is not the only birth story and specifically it’s less likely to be the birth story for children with gay or lesbian parents. I think it’s important not to assume that heterosexuality is the norm. Second, many individuals have difficulty conceiving and need fertility support. I think it’s important not to assume fertility is the norm.
For the supplemental materials my co-facilitator and I got into an interesting situation. The book she wanted to use was only available in the children’s section at the public library. It was a really nice resource, but we were concerned about sending adults to the children’s section. All the reproduction books with pictures were in the children’s not fiction section. In the end, we decided to include it, but put a warning where it was located. I’m not sure this was the best choice, but that’s what we went with at the time. We also encouraged participants to watch “Life’s Greatest Miracle”. This is a great teaching tool, and they could stream it for free!
I’ve attached the lesson plan and supplemental materials below.
The main activity this week was a series of worksheets designed around walking participants through the steps of having a crush: places to meet someone, why you notice someone, deciding to talk to them or not, signs of being interested, approaching someone, asking out on a date, and saying “No”. Probably the most difficult question on the worksheets was, “why do you notice this person?” Many of the participants focused on things the would like if they got to know someone. It took several prompts, but they were able to start thinking about the things they notice about others, the things that draw their attention. When we got to different ways to approach someone there were many questions on bar etiquette. We talked about buying drinks for others, when it’s expected to approach people and when it’s not, and the difference between the bar sitting area and table sitting area. We didn’t get to our final activity, but were were going to sequence the road map with pictures of couples at different stages. We have a little bit of a time management problem because there’s no clock in the room. It’s the little things!
The previous week focused on crushes so this week’s topic, dating, was a natural extension. We did a lot of role playing and it went wonderfully. We were able to pull out parts of the role play to reinforce many of the different concepts. The last time I had done role playing was with middle school students- adults are just so much different to work with. They took the role plays very seriously and put a lot of effort in. One of the actors did turn out to have a comedic streak so the activity was fun as well as thoughtful.
We also did an activity where we asked participants to think about the characteristics in a relationship that were most important to them. We had a couple red flags on the list (like one about physical mutuality) and they were all tuned into why that is important. This activity lead to a nice open discussion where we talked about other items on the list that were important to us. For the most part, people in the group are really centered on having similar interests and values.
For those of you who have come to a workshop, this activity was similar to what we did in the workshop. We thought about power and control in relationships and specifically the benefits of having more power, benefits of having less power, drawbacks to having more power, and the drawbacks to having less power. Once we got it all up on the board we used put a circle in the center and talked about how different situations would be red flags that a relationship would be unsafe. We also did a shortened version of the “What Should I do Worksheet” and role played some of the different scenarios (like one friend calling another friend because her boyfriend just told her there was a greater age difference than she assumed).
We want more people to get good sexuality education so feel free to use our materials. If you improve on them, let me know!
One of the participants in our group loves to do trainings and so we included a online training program to identity dating violence in teen relationships. You may find this site really useful too. Dating Maters offers a 1 hour and 20 minute training that will allow you to identify examples of teen dating violence and understand the consequences of teen dating violence. The training will teach you the risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, and challenges for seeking help for teen dating violence. The material is a good starting place for adult relationships too.
This activity was a little more difficult than we expected (I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to be hard- we’re talking about sexual activity after all!). It was hard for us to explain each of the sexual activities. Part of the point of this activity is to talk about the variety of sexual activities, but sometimes we get caught on our own hang ups and assumptions about what people need to know. On the other hand, this material was difficult and new for many of the participants in the group. Talking about sexual activities can make people feel uncomfortable. I think, in the end we struck a nice balance between expressing the diversity of sexual expression and having opportunities to set personal boundaries. I would make some revisions to the lesson plan and those revisions are reflected in the lesson.
We did a mini pretest which we revisited at the end. The bulk of our activity involved sorting sexual activities into categories and talking about the continuum of intimacy. The relationship categories really helped set up the continuum so I would recommend doing that step first (the relationship categories aren’t listed in order. I would do it from left to right- outside a relationship, in a casual relationship, in a serious relationship, only if married or in a lifelong partnership, and I don’t think I would ever do this). I would then move into talking about how these activities have a continuum. I changed the picture a little to better represent the continuum concept.
We then talked about the human sexual response cycle. As we were talking we used the sexual activities to help make the sexual response cycle more concrete.
We ended with revisiting the pretest questions and talking about our own values. Most of our group really values the emotional components of relationships.
For our sexual health week we talked focused on STDs and contraception methods although we did include more general health information in the newsletter. We did a condom demonstration and then practiced putting on condoms (we used bananas as our phallics). It was really important that we did that because several parts of putting on condom were tricky such as opening the wrapper and making sure it wasn’t inside out.
We talked about the “morning after pill” and STD testing. This is a more complicated topic for individuals with medical guardians. Individuals have the right to these forms of medical care without guardian approval if they are part of post sexual assault forensics. But what about outside of that context? This was especially timely as we had this class the same week a New York judge struck down age limits on the “morning after pill”.
We played a game with contraception methods and STDs that mimic Go Fish. It was a lot of fun. The cards for the game are below. Depending on your audience, you could either print out two copies of the same cards or there are two versions of each card so you can squeeze in twice as many facts.
If you’re teaching a class on this topic and would like to check out our materials, I’ve included them below.
YouTube has a lost of great sexuality education resources but it can be hard to find among all of the “not safe for work” content. Here’s a few channels and videos that might be useful. One of the most difficult tasks sex educators report is explaining intimate acts. This can be uncomfortable and difficult so I’ve tried to focus on these difficult to teach topics. The videos may not be the best fit for the person/people you’re working with, but they can give you an idea where to start. The channels also have great resources for expanding your own education on sexuality topics.
Healthchannel is a YouTube channel with short videos on a variety of health care issues including sexual health resources including a few I’ve listed below. The videos aren’t prefect. They don’t feature animations with people with disabilities and focus on heterosexual couples, but they give very precise, clear information.
Sexplanations is another YouTube channel. They have mini episodes on human sexuality topics from shared sexual behavior to STDs to anatomy. Again the videos aren’t perfect. They move a little too quickly than I would like, but I’ve selected a few I think could be helpful. They could also be good to expand your own understanding of various topics.
A new study by Amanda Saxe and Tara Flanagan looked at the attitudes of support workers in terms sexuality and disability. This study examined 25 university students who had experience as support workers in Canada (either as ABA therapists, Aids, teachers, or consultants). They found that students with no religious affiliation and who were more advanced students had more liberal views. When they said “more liberal” they meant more accepting of sex ed, masturbation, sexual feelings, relationships, intercourse, parenthood, and marriage and less accepting of serialization. Support workers were not biased against homosexuality per se, but they did indicate that anal sex is the least acceptable form of sexual expression for adults with developmental disabilities. In this study, training as a sexuality educator was not related to attitudes about sexuality and disability.
This article is not available for free on the web, but you may be able to view a summary.
At this stage in the game, my partner in crime took over teaching the course. This is part of training paradigm were testing out where we partner with a community agency to teach the course. We process course development together, I start out as lead facilitator, and then we transfer over. For person who is facilitating also develops the materials. In the end, the agency gets a copy of all the resources we developed (all the ones I’m sharing with you here). If you’re interested in doing something like this and are in the Champaign-Urbana area, contact me:)
Everyone in our group really understood topics of sexuality and the law at the extremes so we spend most of our time processing situations that would be more nuanced and contextual. These situations are quite difficult, even for individuals who have few/no intellectual impairments. We gave some general guidelines, like Facebook commenting guidelines and also tried to simplify legal language.
People in the class were really interested in crime statistics regarding sexual violence. We didn’t include a lot of that information, but it is something that we might want to consider in the future. It’s hard to balance providing people with accurate information but not sensationalizing or using scare tactics.
This week we used a case study activity. I’ve never used this as a teaching tool before. We read a news article about Facebook stalking. I think the idea of using case studies is really interesting and I would like to test out this tool in the future. I’d love to hear from you if this is something you’ve had success using.
The article pictured below was featured in the Newsletter this week. It’s from Connect Ability; a website that was specifically developed for individuals with developmental disabilities.
If you’re thinking about teaching this on your own, feel free to use the materials we’ve developed (below).
This week was just a review. We had three review activities, but only got to two of them because we spent a lot of time on questions. I posted all the topics and subtopics on the board and asked everyone to write three to five questions they had about any of the topics we covered in class. Some of the questions were “What is considered to be by law a legal age to be sexually active?”, “What defines a person as a specific gender?”, What is the difference between having a crush on someone or just being in lust?”, “Can you provide an example of different ways for someone to commit voyeurism?”, Why do women get paid less than men who share the same job duties, nowadays, as a result of these stereotypes?”, & “Is it possible for a guy who may have any type of diseases to pass it on to a girl through rape?”. I think actually seeing the questions tells me a lot about what people are picking up from class and what are areas we might of glossed over more. I think it could be really fun to do this same activity the first week of class and then repeat it at the end.
If we would have got to everything, we would have role played situations where they would need to get information on sexuality topics after the class was over. We did talk about this topic. We did close with a values exercise where participants thought if they agreed or disagreed with different statements. We had a lot of like minded people in our group so we would talk about why someone might feel differently then we do. We sent participants home with a book that included supplemental material, material we covered in class that wasn’t in the handouts (activity based information), information from the newsletters, additional resources, and the worksheets they completed during class. I hope that will be a useful resource for folks in the future. We had such a nice time teaching the class- I hope the participants enjoyed it as much as we did (I think that they did!).
If you’re thinking about teaching this class, here are the materials we used.
I recently did a presentation at the Illinois Council on Family Relations (ILCFR). I thought I’d share that presentation with you. I hope you find it useful. It’s about the framework I’ve used to design this website. The framework is based on the one that was published in the Journal of Family Relations by Hughes, Bowers, Thomann Mitchell, Curtiss (me), and Ebata. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on developing an online program. The link takes you to the presentation in an interactive format or you can view it as a pdf: Interactive or PDF.
It was really fun teaching about gender roles. Gender roles and gender identity were difficult concepts. Most of the people in the group talked about wearing a dress as if it made you a women. So we talked a lot about biology and society and how those both influence people and gender. We also talked a lot about gender stereotypes and how they can put limits on how people act.
Our big activity this week was making gender stereotype collages. We found images from magazines that we thought reflected gender stereotypes and made them into a collage. We talked about which stereotypes were easy to break and which ones were hard to escape. The men found a lot of images they thought were more realistic depictions of women. In the future, I think it could be fun to structure that into the activity.
Throughout the entire session, one of the things that was really difficult is that there are gender roles, gender stereotypes, and gender identities. They influence each other but they’re different. It’s not so critical that folks in the class understand the precise definitions, but it might have been helpful to walk through that a little bit more concretely. On the other hand it led to really nice discussion questions, for example one participant asked “What makes a person their gender?”
We used a couple videos in class. The first video focused on gender identity. It shows person in the process of gender reassignment. Over the three year period you can see how their external appearance reflects gender identity more and more.
The second video is more about gender stereotypes and gender roles. One of our participants brought up how boys don’t like to play with “girl toys” and I remembered having seen this and pulled it up (it’s nice when it works out like that!).
If you want to take a stab at teaching this on your own, hear are the materials we used.